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The Caltrans Sweeps

By Nija G.


Caltrans workers on their way to evict poor people at Wood Street


It’s a familiar experience for many unhoused people in the Bay Area: to leave their encampment for a few hours and return to find their tents, clothes, bikes, and family heirlooms taken or trashed.


And this happens almost weekly. The police and Caltrans workers treat these homeless people like trash, spraying them with high-pressure hoses and things and putting their personal belongings in trash compactors. They feel like your stuff is trash and they will throw it away. Many people have lost important items such as IDs, birth certificates, SSNs, and other things.


At the Freedom of Information action the academy did, John J. from Wood Street said, “They are not housing us. Instead, they sweep us from one side of the street to the other side of the street.”

Sweeps happen very often depending on where the poor people are located in the city. There are a lot more sweeps happening because of the street cleaning and city complaints about trash and smells. Many of the residents that live near encampments talk about how the homeless people make their neighborhood look bad and how they deserve a cleaner California. But it's hard to have a cleaner Cali when the cost of food gets higher and people are being put out of their houses daily and rents are on the rise.

John is a part of the Wood Street Community that got swept back in September. Wood Street Collective was home to many. The community has grown over the last 11 years. A huge piece of the encampment is gone. The encampment was spread over 25 city blocks and housed over 300 homeless people. I got to see Wood Street myself and it was a ghost town when I got there. No people, no art, no murals, just stuff in piles. Wood Street Collective was not just homeless people in one space together, it was a solution for everybody. One of the things that John J. said was that “Cal-Trans ain't here to help us even though they act like it.”


Many people with the power to help are not. At the Freedom of Information action, Decolonize, Stolen Belongings, Collision Homelessness, and Wood Street members made a physical attempt to deliver a Freedom of Information Act because a lot of everyone's so-called heroes are hiding the truth from everyone. 29 Wood Street members from the encampment fought for a TRO against the agency, stating that the state would be putting them in danger by evicting them with nowhere to go. The state ordered Cal-trans to find shelter for the residents, then gave the okay for the sweep after only 40 local shelter beds were open, leaving 160 people on the streets with barely any of their stuff.


One of the things happening right now that is causing homelessness in my area is the cost of the new homes that the city is putting up. The cost is too high compared to the old buildings. The new buildings are being built and the old ones are getting taken down, meaning that the people who originally lived there had to move out and were moved elsewhere, and most didn't come back because of the new high cost of everything, leaving them to their family or the streets.

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